The Torah readings on the two mornings of Rosh Hashanah are from Genesis 22 and 23, the stories of Abraham and his two sons, of sacrifice and near-sacrifice, of jealous women and a demanding God.
I have written several midrashim about these readings, which I think are so essential and so painful in the reading. This is my most recent. For the first time, I stopped being angry at Abraham long enough to hear his voice. This is the result.
Avram... I was Avram long ago, before
God's voice came to me. Avram, a farmer and
shepherd on my father's land. My life
was simple. But when I heard the words
God spoke to me, I followed. Who could resist?
Father of nations, I who had no children - how
could this be? But I followed.
And with me Sarai, as she was then,
neither of us young, but not old yet. We traveled
to Canaan and stayed until a drought
sent us to Egypt. I don't know
if Sarah ever forgave
what I asked of her there, sending her
to another man's bed. I never could ask.
I never rested that night, but left Egypt
a rich man with a wife
he was afraid to ask what happened.
We brought from Egypt a girl as Sarah's maid,
young and passionate in all that she did, Hagar.
I watched her grow to womanhood. She drew
my thoughts to her and yet I never
claimed my right to her. Then Sarah had the thought
that though I was to be father of nations, maybe she was
not to be the mother. She brought Hagar
to me. Did she know my thoughts? How can a husband
fathom the mind of a wife
he has come to fear, of a wife who remained
I am an old man now; I have loved two women
yet I think my love hurt them both. I am sure
that after I lay with Hagar, Sarah knew my love.
I could not protect her from her fears, and could not
protect Hagar from her wrath. No, if this is love
it did none of us good.
I loved my son with Hagar, Ishmael, who was
lively and learned from me readily all I undertook
to teach him. And he returned my love, son
to father. Then came the miracle of laughter,
the miracle of Isaac. Sarah laughed - I could not remember
the last time I heard her laughter. We were almost
young again. And yet she was terrible
in her triumph. She could see Isaac growing fond
of Ishmael. It was joy to me that my sons
loved each other. But such joy was a danger
to us all.
I have loved two sons, yet this God of mine
thought this too much. His promise was
that I would be a father of nations, not
a father surrounded by his sons and their sons.
I am told
that I will be called the ancestor
who loved God over all. Here I am,
estranged from my sons, living apart from them
and their mothers - is this because I love God?
Abraham listen to Sarah, he said. Abraham
take your son Isaac to the place I will show you,
he said. And I? Here I am, I said.
Do I love God? Who could love a God
who asked such things of him?
Love has brought me no joy. Love is pain.
Perhaps that has been God's lesson for me.
They just told me Sarah has died. I who am
not yet dead, now I am truly old.
I want no more love. It is time
for Isaac to marry and take on the burden
of the promise. As for me,
I will settle for peace.